I recently received an amazing package in the mail from a friend who had inherited his older brother’s childhood collectibles. Mixed among the comic books and Marvel Universe trading cards were a cardboard time capsule of the ’80s that I was not expecting, Garbage Pail Kids!
Always relegated to being owned by older “bad kids” during my youth, I only admired these grotesque creatures from afar, when placed on school folders, skateboard decks, and bathroom stalls, but now here they were in living color. Since GPK just released a new mobile app this week, I thought it would be a great time for me to share my favorites from this vintage Topps trading card collection. Come on, let’s get gross!
Before I was given this glorious gift of garbage, Joe Blow was the only card I had sought out to own. There is something so classic about that plain yellow background and seeing one of the kids dressed up as Bazooka Joe. In case you didn’t know, Topps also produced Bazooka Joe gum so this was a very meta card concept. I would always get a few pieces of Bazooka Joe from the Barber after my childhood haircuts, so those tiny 2-panel comics meant a lot to me, hence why this piece of cardboard nostalgia was a must have.
Here’s a great example of how the classic GPK formula worked so well in its simplicity. 1) Chubby faced kid in everyday clothes. 2) Kid is caught up in a gory or gross situation, in this case, voluminous projectile vomiting. 3) Clever name pun, double points for referencing an existing, cutesy character. Richie Retch for Richie Rich? DING-DING, we have a winner! All in all, that is an impressive pile of puke. I mean how did scissors, eyeballs, and skulls make it into his belly anyway?
Snot Rope Hope
You gotta have a booger gag and boy will this one get your stomach churning. Hope looks so carefree and ready for fun. As gross as her thick mucus rope is, this scene still feels very sweet and wholesome. Not many people are aware, but Garbage Pail Kids had a severely neutered Saturday Morning Cartoon that was canceled before it premiered on TV, but I doubt even this level of simple snot humor would have made the cut for character designs.
Hot Head Harvey
Though the name of the game with Garbage Pail Kids was outrageously disgusting visual humor, the pop culture parody cards captured my imagination the most. Seeing as how The Transformers were the coolest (not to mention most expensive) toys on store shelves at the time, catching sight of a misfit Cybertronian sprouting a Cabbage Patch style head on its shoulders was sure to catch my eye. What faction do you think he belonged to, Autobots or Decepticons? My vote is for an off-shoot like the Dinobots or Insecticons, the Dumpsterbots led by Optimus Grime, “Dumpsterbots…GROSS OUT!” (Come on, the thing writes itself.)
If any image embodies the essence of Garbage Pail Kids origins as an unsavory parody of Cabbage Patch Kids, this is it. I mean, you’ve got an adorable gender-neutral baby whose diaper is about to burst with bodily waste, amplified by stink lines and leaking fluids. Bathroom humor rarely takes a form this adorable. This is exactly the kind of card I imagine finding stuck to the side of an elementary school toilet, just waiting for a disgruntled Janitor to scrape it off while muttering obscenities under his breath.
The acknowledgment of this series as a set of stickers was never made more clear than with this card. While I’m not sure why the kid has a banana peel on his head, the fact that his body is dotted with random GPK stickers is like meta upon meta imagery. The idea of one of the card subjects becoming sentient of their role as a drawing on a sticker and attempting to escape via prying himself loose could be the subject of an animated short I would love to see.
Many people reading this will likely remember the wacky Tim Burton film from the ’90s, Mars Attacks! featuring Jack Nicholson, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker and more. But how many are aware that the film was inspired by a series of grotesquely violent Topps trading cards from the ’60s? Here’s another meta mash-up with a kid sporting the classic Martian exposed brain head and space suit. Talk about dynamic art! On a side note, the 80’s kid who used to own these cards was named Ian, so I like to imagine that this was one of his personal favorites.
Many parents saw GPK as a fad or a gimmick that they hoped would fade away into obscurity, instead, it lasted for 15 series over 3 years. But speaking of gimmicks, 3-D is the trend that never dies and this is a trippy way to bring the concept to the world of gross-out non-sports trading cards. I like to imagine that Dee is being ripped apart after sitting in the middle of a dimensional rift. In case you were wondering, I did take a look at the card while wearing a pair of 3-D glasses and the drawing only partially pops out.
This one is very far outside the GPK formula, but it still gives me a chuckle every time I see it. I loved the old TV commercials featuring the stop motion version of this ticklish baking supply company mascot, so the idea of the wholesome, loveable Dough Boy being flattened by a rolling pin is delightfully horrifying. Sure there’s the possibility that he could be kneaded gently and reformed into his normal shape, but I have to believe this baker was turning him into some kind of pizza or pie crust. I would love to see a sequel card to this called “Crusty Chris” or “Baked Jake”.
I’ll be honest, when I rented Garbage Pail Kids The Movie from the video rental store in 1989, I had never seen the Nat Nerd card. I assumed he had been created just for the movie, but he was instantly my favorite (though the movie at the time was not). I was in full on superhero mania mode as a 1st grader, so even a pimply, overweight kid in a cape who peed his pants could win me over. It was only years later after seeing the design of this card that I realized the artists were mocking the classic image of the comic book nerd and by that point, I had become one of those too, so for me, Nat Nerd was an icon.
There’s a lot going on in this twisted Christmas painting. First up, the stubble, mask and stitched up scar on the kid’s face is accentuated by the wild white hair blowing in the snowstorm to tell you this guy is a creep way beyond the normal Garbage Pail Kid. If you look at his feet, there is a body sprawled out in the snow, likely a guy doing last minute shopping who unfortunately ran into this Christmas ghoul that is now greedily thumbing through his wallet. I was too young for Silent Night, Deadly Night as a kid, so this was the first evil Santa I would have encountered. GPK, shattering childhood dreams.
Cut Up Carmen
Operating on a similar principal to Hector Collector, this kid knows she is a paper doll and is determined to get free. Unfortunately, shaky hands have led to an unfortunate cut. Again, the idea of a drawing gaining sentience is kind of frightening, but if you look at the bird poop stained shirt and vomit that was going to be added to her by some demented child, escaping this stinky, messy fate starts to make a lot more sense.
I played both sides of the field when it came to the laser light gun games of the 80s, so seeing that war played out in the world of GPK was an absolute treat. Lazer Tag had some fantastic helmets and sensor designs, which I’m surprised they allowed to be copied so closely for Laser Ray’s garb. The idea the Ray didn’t know these guns were actually fully functioning laser weapons cracks me up. The look of shock on his face realizing this is more than a game is priceless. Of course, Laser Tag arenas still exist, but nothing today has the flair of Photon and Lazer Tag, which makes this card a wonderful relic of days gone by.
Snooty Sam and Alice Island
Only in the USA could we have the freedom of expression to create such drippy, ooey-gooey, low-brow art so it’s fitting that our GPK artists decided to parody 2 icons of America. Having Uncle Sam reposition his finger from pointing at the viewer to digging around in his nose is pure, schoolyard genius. I especially appreciate the Statue of Liberty proudly raising a garbage bag to the sky as if to say, “We’re trashy and we know it”.
Well, there you have it, 15 fantastic vintage Garbage Pail Kids cards to brighten your day. Your mileage may vary, so tell what were some of your favorites back in the day? It’s awesome that the franchise has continued since it’s relaunch in 2003, doing their best to match the look, feel and nostalgia of the original. There’s even a new GPK app being released that you can read all about here on TRN. So the question becomes, will GPK be the brand that bridges generations? Time will smell…er, tell.
Be sure to check out Kevin Decent’s review of the new Garbage Pail Kids Game App!